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Mahler: Symphony No. 1
Iván Fischer, conductor; Budapest Festival Orchestra
(Channel Classics)
There’s nothing radical about Iván Fischer’s rendition of Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 “Titan” with the Budapest Festival Orchestra. Yet this performance achieves a tightrope balance that sets it apart from other recordings and make the symphony’s vast canvas lucid, cohesive and still exciting throughout its many abrupt shifts.

Fischer culls seamless transitions as the work vacillates among emotional extremes, as well as a sense of raw abandon, without sacrificing too much tone quality. He allows unabashed sentiment without becoming saccharine.

After a suspenseful opening, the first movement theme (which the composer also used in “Songs of a Wayfarer”) is warmly and ingratiatingly played. Smoothness, grandeur and playfulness contrast elegiac, slightly hoarse downward slides that lead into anguished and then manic sections. The folkish scherzo has just the right mix of brightness and the finale musters plenty of fearsome power.

A single symphony lasting less than an hour is a somewhat meager offering. But it’s worth ignoring the lack of quantity for this kind of quality.

— Ronni Reich